Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Missouri strong in first practice after spring break
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A raw day with a steady breeze would have been problematic for much work outside for Missouri in the Tigers' first practice back after spring break.
But the toasty conditions inside the Devine Pavilion made for a more comfortable location for players and coaches. And the assembled media didn't mind too much, either.
Here are a few of my observations from the workout.
- I joked with one of my media colleagues that this was the first football practice where I could have used a pair of binoculars. The media is perched in an overhang over one of the end zones. It reminded me of covering some old Central Hockey League games from the press boxes high over the ice back in the day. And it provided about the same amount of depth perception as those visits to the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio.
- Even with my isolated location, I did see several throws that Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert really appeared to zip into traffic. On one throw, he hung a rope that was snagged on a strong catch in the end zone by Wes Kemp. Gabbert looks like the real deal as far as arm strength. But whether he can come to matching Chase Daniel's intangibles still remain to be determined.
- Missouri coaches have been impressed with the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Kemp all spring long and I can see why after the work he had on Tuesday. He appears to be making the most of the injuries by other members of the Missouri receiving corps.
- Defensive end Brian Coulter was back at practice after recovering from shoulder surgery. He looked rusty at times, but still showed the explosive burst that could help him become the Tigers' featured pass rusher if he can remain healthy.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was raving about the play of sophomore Jimmy Costello, a walk-on who is Gabbert's closest competitor at quarterback. "He's a great story," Pinkel said. "He came here as a walk-on, an average guy and just kept improving. You watch how he competes and he's doing a lot of things."
- New Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel was pleased with his unit's work, particularly considering it was the first day back from spring break. "I thought it was good coming back from spring break," Steckel said. "They were all in Speedos last week looking at college girls and now they are back here getting yelled at by us. Considering that, I thought the effort was good."
- One of the more notable additions coming back from spring break was walk-on defensive end Mark Ellis, who claimed the NCAA heavyweight wrestling championship last month. Missouri officials didn't make Ellis available for interviews, which is a shame. He obviously would be media savvy because of his accomplishments earlier in his athletic career. It might be interesting to hear why he decided to try another sport -- especially so soon after his wrestling success.
- Ellis looked very raw in the drills he ran for Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski. But his teammates were willing to show him his deficiencies and help him move forward in what is no doubt a challenging transformation.
- Steckel was barking at his troops in his new role after serving the past eight seasons as the Tigers' linebackers coach. "He's way more intense in his new job," Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said about Steckel, a former member of the Marines before he began college . "He's the head guy now, and when things aren't going right the finger will pointed at coach Steck. He knows that, so he's really getting in our face and knowing we have to be productive and take care of the basic things before we become a great defense."
- I was intrigued with several strong catches by sophomore tight end Andrew Jones, who will be facing one of the most difficult replacement chores in the conference. All Jones has to do is follow in the footsteps of back-to-back consensus All-Americans who played for the Tigers at the position -- Martin Rucker in 2007 and Chase Coffman in 2008.
- Projected starting tailback Derrick Washington and backup Gilbert Moye both were wearing red pullovers because of injuries. Both were limited in their activities, providing an opening for sophomore De'Vion Moore who worked with the first-team offense for much of the practice.